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Minisforum S41 HDMI thin client PC review

A tired form factor that is on its last legs but will the S41 save it?

21:9 Hero
(Image: © Future)

Our Verdict

The Minisforum S41 HDMI PC represents excellent value for money with plenty of connectivity options and a surprisingly competitive feature set. Shame about the form factor but that’s another conversation.

For

  • Surprisingly good value for money
  • DisplayPort allows for second screen to be connected
  • Can be used without connecting to the HDMI port
  • Plenty of connectors
  • Type-C power connector is a boon

Against

  • Need a HDMI adaptor for comfortable usage
  • Poor storage performance
  • 64GB onboard storage is barely sufficient
Where to buy

Banggod sells the Minisforum S41  for $129 at the time of writing with the code BG01S41. Note that, while this price includes delivery, it is exclusive of any taxes that may be levied by the relevant authorities or the courier companies on behalf of the vendor. 

A few years ago, a new form factor appeared to be emerging that was, back then, what could be interpreted as Intel’s answer to the threat posed by Android TV boxes and the likes of the Amazon Firestick, released in 2014. We reviewed the original Intel Compute stick and the Asus Vivostick in 2015; in 2020, we are reviewing the Minisforum S41, a newcomer to our labs, one that has embraced this ill-fated form factor, for better or for worse.

Design

(Image credit: Future)

Design

Minisforum stuck to the template and delivered a product that looks a lot like Intel’s Compute Stick. There’s the HDMI protuberance (port) which we’d actively discourage to plug into any compatible devices (TV, monitors etc) because of the potential physical stress caused on the host port.

Back Vents

(Image credit: Future)

There’s also that rectangular plastic body that’s covered with holes that allow air to circulate through to cool the electronics that power the S41. The mini computer uses an active heat sink fan to keep temperatures within acceptable limits when in use and is portable enough to be shoved in your shirt’s pocket.

Side Ports

(Image credit: Future)

Other than the HDMI connector, Minisforum’s newest product offers a miniDP, a Type-C connector (which is power only), two Type-A USB ports, one microSD port and a Kensington lock. There’s no audio jack or Ethernet port; both of which might be obtained by seeking a compatible docking station.

USB-C Port

(Image credit: Future)

A note on the power connector; it is a 15W model and it is much smaller than most laptop power supply units. The only issue is that the cable length is a tad too short. The Type-C power connector means that you can put in a recent smartphone adaptor in case of emergency or even a compatible battery charger.

Side View

(Image credit: Future)

Hardware

Spec Sheet

Here are the full specs of the Minisforum S41:

CPU: Intel Celeron N4120

Graphics: Intel UHD Graphics 600

RAM: 4GB DDR4

Storage: 64GB eMMC (Ncard sld64g)

Ports: 2x USB3.0, 1x USB-C, 1x HDMI 2.0, mini Display Port, MicroSD card reader, Kensington Lock

Connectivity: Intel Wireless-AC 3165, 802.11ac, Bluetooth 5.0

Weight: 300g

Size: 133 × 46 × 14mm (LxWxH)

The S41 is the first product that we have come across that uses the 14nm Intel Celeron N4120 processor; it is a quad-core, 4-thread model with 4MB cache and a base frequency of 1.1GHz. Its TDP of 6W propels it amongst the ranks of the best balanced entry-level Intel processors out there. The video subsystem is handled by an Intel UHD Graphics 600 which allows it to power two 4K monitors. The rest of the specification includes 4GB DDR4 memory, 64GB eMMC storage (Ncard sld64g) and 802.11ac courtesy of Intel. 

A surprising inclusion is Windows 10 Pro (rather than home) which hints at the business audience the S41 targets. There’s also a mini-DP to full DP cable and a HDMI one as well.

Side View Standing

(Image credit: Future)

Performance and in use

Benchmarks

This is how the Minisforum S41 performed in our series of benchmark tests:

Passmark: 1084.1

Passmark CPU: 2723.8

CPU-Z: 206 (single-thread); 823 (multi-thread)

Cinebench CPU: 541

CrystalDiskMark: 253 MBps (read); 143 MBps (write)

Novabench: 659

Atto: 250 MBps (read, 256mb); 138 MBps (write, 256mb)

Sisoft Sandra (KPT): 0.44

Windows Experience Index: 4.4

The S41 is easy to set up and use; we didn’t encounter any teething issues. Generally speaking, compute performance was on par with our expectations; better than the ubiquitous N4100 that was all the rage in 2019 and beginning of the year with good video performance.

The storage subsystem though was abysmal by modern standards. At 253MBps and 143MBps in read/write speeds respectively (as measured by Crystal Disk Mark), it is roughly half and a quarter of the speed of a SATA-based SSD drive. There is no real justification for using eMMC that’s not of the faster type (v5.1) other than to reduce the bill of material. Then there’s the fact that Windows 10 occupies quite a big chunk of the storage space; of the 64GB on paper, you’re left with about 35GB.

One surprise is that you can use the device without plugging it into the HDMI port of a display. Instead, you can use the DisplayPort port with a compatible adaptor. The S41 gets very warm when in use, make sure the air vents do not get blocked as it might cause the device to shut down; it is not as noisy as we’d expect.

The competition

The Minisforum S41, we should remember, is far smaller than your average computer and is likely to cost less as well. It will appeal to those looking for something which is discreet, great for say, digital signage, interactive kiosks or point-of-sales systems.

The AK3V ($146 at Banggood) looks more like a traditional mini PC with an enclosure that’s about the size of half a dozen CD boxes stacked high. The Celeron J3455 CPU that powers it is slightly less powerful than the N4120 but it has 50% more system memory and it easily outflanks the S41 when it comes to connectivity options.

A more direct comparison perhaps is the AK5 ($123 at Aliexpress); it sports the same processor as the AK3V but with 4GB RAM and 64GB eMMC storage. Like the model above, it features plenty of IO ports, far more than the S41. 

Final verdict

Let’s start with the positives and there’s quite a few. First the price; we were flabbergasted to see how low these can be had for. The S41 can be had for the same outlay as a “normal” Windows 10 mini PC; in other words, a HDMI stick no longer carries any significant premium compared to existing alternatives. At under $150 at the time of writing, it is actually damn good.

As for the negatives, there was never going to be a surprise. We were never really convinced by the HDMI stick as a viable form factor for well-documented reasons and we stick to our rationale. We’d rather see Minisforum shave a few Dollars off the price of the S41 by putting the hardware into a more traditional mini PC chassis or even something like the Chuwi Larkbox.